I hate talking about the past, because it brings me back to the genocide and the reason I am so alone. It brings me to tears and makes me think about the future. I try not to dwell on it and instead prepare for my future…
You can download the PDF version of Mussa's life story here.
Mussa was born in 1991 in Rwanda, the youngest of a large family with two sisters and a brother. When the troubles infiltrated their hometown, Mussa’s father made the decision to move the family across the border into the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) in search of safety. Four-year-old Mussa didn’t understand what was happening as his family scrabbled to pack up all their belongings, although he sensed that they had become gripped by fear.
Mussa’s family were preparing to flee the chaos and confusion that erupted as the Genocide began. The Interahamwe, a government-supported militia, was persecuting Tutsis, as well as those Hutus who refused to take part in the Genocide, and there was also the fear of future Tutsi reprisals.
The journey was hazardous and fraught with danger. The family was forced to pay a bribe in order to cross the border to the DRC and arrived only to discover that it was no safer than Rwanda.
Witnessing his usually strong father begin to despair was terrifying for Mussa, but his family worked hard at comforting and placating their youngest member.
They stayed in a refugee camp for three nights until Interahamwe militia invaded and began shooting and killing everyone they came across. The militias killed indiscriminately, adults and children alike and the women were raped. Mussa saw children thrown against a wall and burned alive, some with petrol. Whilst running for their lives, one of the militia raped Mussa’s sister. His older brother, who had been a wrestler, jumped in to defend her and was gunned down, shot all over his body from head to toe.
The family found temporary sanctuary in a forest. Mussa’s father separated from the rest of them and set off to the town in search of provisions. Whilst he was away, militia invaded the forest and caught the others. They asked Mussa’s mother if the family was Hutu or Tutsi. Mussa’s mother replied ‘we all have the same race from the Lord, our creator’. Angered by her response, the militia dragged his mother away, possibly to kill her.
The children tried to survive alone for a while, begging for food, until it became too challenging. The siblings decided to take Mussa to the Red Cross, who were in charge of orphans, and they immediately took Mussa to hospital. Through eating dirty food Mussa was bow-legged and pot-bellied, as well as suffering from cholera. He spent a month in hospital, continuously asking the nurses for information about his siblings, but nothing was known about them.
After a brief stay in another centre, Mussa was taken to an orphanage called Imbabazi CENA where he first encountered Rosamond Carr, an American lady who he came to see as his mother. Mussa describes what it was like meeting her: ‘When we got to the orphanage we were introduced to an old woman named Mrs Rosamond Carr. The first day I saw her, I saw love’. The warmth and affection that Rosamond showed all the orphans gave him a renewed sense of family, security and love.
In 2000, whilst Mussa was still at primary school, a photographer called David Jiranek began a photography project. Mussa was one of 11 pupils selected, which meant he was given a disposable camera to take pictures of the world he saw around him. The project called Through the Eyes of Children exhibited the photos taken in the US, and the proceeds from print sales were used to fund schooling for the children in Rwanda. This gave Mussa a lifelong passion for photography.
Mussa thrived in his new environment. His good grades enabled him to attend a boarding school far away from the orphanage. He was terrified of leaving his new family behind, and packing up brought back terrible memories for him of his family evacuating their home. The school was not a welcoming place, and Mussa was bullied and robbed by older pupils. He nicknamed the school ‘hell’ and soon made the decision to go back to the orphanage.
At the time of writing Mussa is a student at the Rwanda Tourism University College in Kigali. He continues to take photographs in his spare time, highlighting the poverty and injustice that he feels remain under the surface of Rwandan society. As Mussa explains, ‘photography is an art that helps you open up and express yourself. It is a voice; it is a tool for change.’
Over the years, many NGOs have come to the orphanage to take portraits of the children, with the hope of reuniting them with their family. Unfortunately Mussa has no information about any of his relatives. He does, however, consider all the children he grew up with at the orphanage to be his brothers and sisters, retaining a close bond with each of them, united by their common life experience, and mutual love of the late Rosamond Carr.
Mussa's photography formed part of an exhibition at King's College London entitled Rwanda in Photographs: Death Then, Life Now that aimed to look at the country today rather than back to the genocide in 1994, which much of the photographic work related to Rwanda focuses on.